We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Many Christians are under the impression that the Christian life is begun in conversion and newness and that, over time, this newness of life leaves you behind. In other words, when beginning the Christian life, it is new, but after a while, it is old. This is a misconception. Saint Paul teaches us that the purpose of baptism is to incorporate us in the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. His Death and Resurrection result in His life being eternally new. His human nature, which had been subject to death, is no longer subject to decay and oldness. Saint Paul teaches that it is this newness of life to which the Christian is to cling.
Our Lord says: And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins. (Mark 2:22) In essence, the New Wine of the Kingdom of God is to be poured continually into and out of new wineskins, which are provided by lives which are continually renewed. But what does this mean? How does this work?
Since were not in the habit of putting wine into skins, few other analogies might help. There are things which we are constantly in the habit of replacing, from the bottle of shampoo in the shower, to our trash can liners, to the milk thats gone bad, to ink cartridges in our printers. We replace them constantly because they either run out or they become deficient over time. Snakes shed their skins. Our fingernails are constantly renewed, replacing what is old. These are very helpful in understanding the wineskin analogy. Regular renewal is the basis for living a life that is not stagnant.
One of the main enemies and barriers to living a fruitful and faithful life is congestion. Many people wake up the same today as they were ten years ago. They havent changed. They may work in a different career, or live in a new house, but on the interior, they are the same. The world tells us that people dont change. But, the Scriptures teach us that change (or conversion) are essential to this life. People are meant to grow in grace, experiencing afresh the goodness of God, leaving behind the life of sin and death and embracing the new life which Christ has given.
The Christian fights stagnancy and walks in newness of life after Baptism by making a regular confession of sin, daily examining his life, receiving the Sacraments, continually renewing the mind by the reading of Scripture and receiving good teaching, and by a life of daily prayer. If your life has become stagnant and congested, if you have found that you havent grown recently, embrace these disciplines. You will find yourself renewed.
There’s a video floating around on the social networking sites, especially twitter and facebook. Its made by a young poet entitled “Jesus > Religion.” There is a long list of complaints against religion. Among them, that religion is focused on the externals, never getting to the core, that it is responsible for wars and judgmentalism, that it’s “perfume on a casket” and “behavior modification.” He says Jesus hated religion and that religion is manmade, on the opposite end of the spectrum from Jesus. His emphasis on grace and the love of God is laudable, and he is clearly a very gifted poet. But, theologian he is not. Scripture scholar he is not.
Here’s my most basic response, on which I would like to elaborate:
My take on the hate religion, but love Jesus bit: “Folks, Jesus Christ established the Church, with rituals (Baptism the Eucharist), prayers (the Lord’s Prayer), Holy writings, authority structures, and clear teaching. Thats religion. You can’t just make religion a bad word because you don’t like those things. And – you can’t say that Christianity is just about loving Jesus – it isn’t. This sort of talk is just hyper-individualistic pietism taken to the nth degree. It has never done anything but make people into total snobs, not saints.”
First, Jesus Christ established His Kingdom on Earth. In the ancient era in which he inserted himself, every kingdom had a religio or a cultus. The prime example is that of Caesar. Caesar had a religion which surrounded him, requiring Roman citizens to worship him, and in a proscribed way. Jesus does not separate himself from this, for He, unlike Caesar, is actually worthy to be worshipped. (John 9:38, Rom 14:11, Philippians 2:10) Jesus established clear instructions to his disciples, including instructions regarding the making of disciples and baptism (Matthew 28:19), the celebration of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-24), the forgiveness of sin (John 20:23), and many others. He is very clear that love for Him does not consist in the mind or the heart, but in action – in obeying His commandments. (John 14:15) That’s religion. If it’s not, what could we possibly call it?
The second problem comes from this, and it is an intrinsically postmodern contempt for the meaning of words as well as for institutions. This young man has made religion a category for all the things he turns his nose at. But, religion is actually a word coming from the re-reading of texts, as was done by medieval monastics. Hence re and legere, rereading. The other possible source for the word is the Latin religare, to bind fast. This meaning speaks to obligations of vows. From the earliest days, the Church has had the vows of Baptism and a great deal of clarity regarding the obligations of Christians, including the obligation and duty to know the faith, to keep the sabbath, to give to the Church, etc. This is not legalism, nor is it onerous duty. It is the wonderful privilege of each and every Christian as well as being the means of growing in Faith and the love of God. Practices cultivate virtue, religious practices specifically. This young man has, unfortunately, let contemporary postmodern distaste for such things infect him.
Further, postmodernism elevates relationship above truth. For instance is the insistence that relationship matters more than morality. If two men have a sexual relationship, this is more important than moral truth. In fact, what Aristotle says is the truth: “For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first.” I fear that contemporary Evangelicalism has elevated a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to the status of an idol, saying my relationship is the most important thing, when it is clear from the Scriptures that faith without works is dead and that love for neighbor is part and parcel with love for God.
But, the worst of all of it is that this young man displays what the Church has always called Gnosticism. Gnosticism, in its heyday, sought to be free of religion too. It taught that man must free himself from the shackles of this earthly and bodily existence and open himself to the knowledge of the infinite. Gnosticisms insistence on knowledge is the source of its name, gnosis being the Greek word for knowledge. Gnostics were suspicious of the Incarnation, preferring to say that Jesus actually intended to free us from our bodies, that he was not divine, and that he was primarily concerned with the spiritual and not the practical. Gnosticisms emphasis upon the evil of the flesh (most of them said that physical things were created by a malevolent demi-God) led them to fall into two camps. Some said that the physical outworkings of life were without benefit, leading them into licentiousness of the worst sort. Some, like the Manichees, believed that extreme asceticism was the cure for an overly-physical life.
The reason I say this is that many modern Christians, in their neglect of the Incarnation, have unwittingly slipped into this mode. Heaven becomes an entirely body-less existence filled with disembodied souls. Faith is about one’s own spiritual life, not so much about action. Sacraments are the object of suspicion and religious people are the bad guys. Christianity becomes about knowledge and relationship and neglects duty, ritual, practice, and charity.
Lastly, the Gnostics were snobs. They immediately created hierarchies of progress for their movements. Certain blessed people had more knowledge than others. And, of course, their knowledge was more the result of their enlightenment than their formation and instruction, which was basically non-existent. The Church did the opposite. No knowledge was hidden, any question could be asked, and the Church was passionate about catechesis and formation of Christians, the introduction of religious practices, rituals, and articles of belief.
At the end of the day, I am not against having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, I am quite in favor of it. But, it is a relationship of marriage, not puppy-love. Married people know that you show your love for your spouse by emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, remembering anniversaries, spending time together, paying the bills, getting up and going to work. This is maturity in marriage. I fear that a new generation, in their lust for eternal youthfulness, in their rejection of institutions, in their distrust of received practices, has been sentenced to immaturity. You see, religion and relationship have a symbiotic need for each other. I have witnessed, through the years, that the people with the most maturity in the faith were the ones who dragged themselves to Church Sunday after Sunday, who made regular retreats, who lived by a Rule of Life, who made their confessions regularly. They’re not snobby about their faith. They’re lights to the world. They’re mature. They’re saints.
In the meantime, I pray that this young man will come under the influence of mature Christians who can direct his passion and guide him to the fulness of the truth.
It seems like this time of year, people are so excited for Christmas to come. As soon as the turkey is put into ziploc bags, its off to pick up a Christmas tree, and put lights up on the house. The decorations are pulled out of storage. All the stores play Christmas music.
A friend of mine, a systematic theologian, loves it. She says that its the only time of year when Jesus is treated like a total rock star. Shes right – is wonderful to see the festive way in which our increasingly secular culture greets this season, even if they dont acknowledge the deep theological significance. Trouble is, in jumping the gun, and celebrating Christmas too early, we miss out on the entire season of Advent, which the Church has given us as a means of building this anticipation properly. Advent is a season of penitence and preparation for the great twelve-day-long feast of Christmas. So, I give you five Advent traditions for you and your family.
- Light up an Advent Wreath and have a family dinner.
- Do family devotions based on the Jesse Tree.
- Make Christmas gifts for each other.
- Choose a charity to support.
- Prepare for Twelve Whole Days of Feasting.
Have as many sit-down family dinners as possible, and each evening, prior to the meal, light the candles on the Advent Wreath. Kids, especially, love the romanticism of this tradition. Romantic is exactly the right word! God is romancing this world to embrace the Bridegroom He has sent us. God loves the world, and seduces us to love Him in return.
The Jesse Tree tracks the history of the salvation of the world, starting with Jesse, the Father of David and culminating in Jesus. There are a good number of online resources for this. Have the father of the family read the Scripture readings for each day and talk to the children about the meaning of each reading.
In the not-so-distant past, American families used to spend this time of year industriously making Christmas gifts. Fathers would carve wood, mothers would knit, and children would make all kinds of things for their parents and siblings. Avoid the materialism of the modern age by having beloved things repaired for loved ones. I heard last week about a company that will repair your favorite pair of jeans! It may be that drawer that doesnt open or that appliance that needs a new motor. Maybe some jewelry needs to be repaired.
If your mailbox is like mine, youre getting inundated with requests from charities this time of year. There are many worthy ones. Consider a gift to a family you know struggling from unemployment. Also – consider a gift to charities like Heifer International, WorldVision, Food for the Poor, Anglican Relief and Development, or Anglicans for Life.
Put a little money in your budget for saving for the Twelve Days of Christmas. Make plans for a very merry Christmas. Stock the wine cellar and bar. Make candy together. Scour the cookbooks. Discover the joys of homemade toffee, sticky toffee pudding, roasts, and christmas cocktails. Put together gift baskets. Make plans for decorating your house with a Christmas creche, a tree, garlands, wreaths, and lights. Leave everything up until Epiphany (January 6th). To some, this may seem luxurious, but if you cut back during Advent – youll have plenty of savings for a very merry Christmas.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American creation in the traditions which we keep, but we are far from unique in turning to God to give thanks for all of His blessings. In the very opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, man turns to God to give thanks. Cain and Abel, with vastly different motives, give thanks to God by the offering of the very best of the produce of the land. The Scriptures are, in fact, filled with examples of thanksgiving being offered. In the Temple period, there was a specific kind of sacrifice called the Sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Psalmist refers to this saying: Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me.
Jesus himself offers us a perfect example of thanksgiving. In the accounts of the Feeding of the 5,000, we see Him take the bread and fish and give thanks for them. Thanksgiving is the means of blessing and Jesus calls upon it to bless the gifts He offers. This was a very Jewish means of blessing. Many of the ancient Jewish blessings begin in thanksgiving.
Thus, in the ultimate blessing of bread, the Holy Eucharist, we see blessing by thanksgiving. For, the term eucharist is simply the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Church gives thanks to God for the mystery of redemption by a wondrous mix of remembrance and blessing. Remembrance, however, means much more than our modern American understanding. It means to make present again or to know again. This was the meaning of the Greek word anamnesis. The Eucharist is the means by which the Church experiences the mystery of redemption afresh, not in a crude parody, but in a real and substantial way, for it is Christ who gives Himself to us under the accidents of bread and wine. Blessing, as well, is not so much a pat on Gods back, but the attitude of the humble – a recognition that we are not responsible, that everything is a gift. What gift could be greater than the salvation offered to the world on the Cross?
In this way, the American celebration of a Thanksgiving is rather inferior. But, I would submit to you that it is profound nonetheless. The reason is that Thanksgiving, in all its forms, is accomplished by what we have already mentioned – remembrance and blessing.
This Thanksgiving, remember all the goodness and kindness of God in your life and bless Him for it. For God is the author of every good and perfect gift. He is responsible not only for employment and checking account balances, but for even the mundane things like turkeys in the oven and every little cranberry and potato. This is the inescapable truth of human life – that we are born into this world with nothing – everything comes from God. Thanksgiving is a great day to call that to mind and bless the name of God for it.
Daily routines are important. It seems that one little interruption in our routine will throw a whole day off track. It can be as little as the coffee maker malfunctioning, or running out of toothpaste, or not being able to listen to our favorite radio show on the way to work. The reason is that the whole creation operates in a daily rhythm – sunrise and sundown, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are flowers that open during the day and close at night. The ocean has tides and animals like chickens retreat to their coops when the sun goes down.
What we see in the created order is Gods plan of an ordered life, divided into days and hours, with seasons and times of year. This is reflected in the Churchs calendar, but also in the grand vision which the Church has for daily prayer. Many times, people get the impression that the Gospel is about God creating a well-rounded human being. In fact, it is about God inviting man to share in His divine life. Will this make a better man? To be sure – but at the end of the day the Christian life is not primarily about morality or virtue. It is about the practice of the presence of God, or as Abbot Dom Marmion put it – the Sacrament of the Present Moment.
The Christian is bidden by Saint Paul to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess. 5:17) This may seem to many to be an impossibility, yet the consequence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is that the presence of God is a given in the life of the Christian. It needs to be practiced. This begins in a routine of daily prayer. For instance, the key to keeping a kitchen clean is the discipline of loading the dishwasher every evening and emptying it every night. The key to keeping your car running well is regular oil changes. You see, the discipline initiates and maintains the continual practice.
Thus, the best suggestion for learning to pray is to start with the commitment of time in the morning and time in the evening for prayer. I would suggest about 15 minutes. It should include some form of adoration, confession, intercession, and scriptural reading. It should also include the most important feature of daily prayer – that of listening. Written prayers serve as the backbone of daily prayer. To some, this may seem insincere. But, how many poets learned to write poetry without reading good poems, and feeling their power? We learn to pray from others. It should be no surprise that Jesus gives his disciples a written prayer – the Lords prayer, and they remember it and pray it.
The best practice for this time of prayer is the use of a designated space. It should be comfortable, not bed comfortable, but a chair or a place suitable for kneeling. Objects of devotion should be placed in view to keep your attention. Icons, crosses, and statues are the best ways to do this.
Next, add prayers throughout the day. Begin the practice of prayer before work tasks, meals, and other routines. The Celtic Church had a practice we know as sweeping prayers. These were the prayers of women as they swept the floors. You see, the life of prayer binds itself to even the most mundane of activities. Why? Because again, the Christian life is about binding the life of man to the life of God. This is prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila said this: Prayer is loving intercourse with God. If daily prayer is not part of your routine, start today!
Someone asked me last Sunday about the Eucharistic fast. I believe that they had offered me a cookie prior to the 7:30 mass. I politely declined, and gave the reason – that I keep the catholic practice of a eucharistic fast from food and drink of one hour prior to mass. Prior to about fifty years ago, it was a very common practice to abstain from food and drink from midnight until a morning mass for everyone but children, the elderly, and the sick. I still hold to this custom.
The reason is rooted in the whole reason for fasting – that it cultivates prayer and reliance upon Gods providence. We understand the words of Our Lord: Life is more than food. (Luke 12:23) We spend much of life waiting for the next meal, or working for it. We need to be awakened to the wonderful blessings of the greatest meal we can possibly eat, and a meal for which we cannot labor. This is, of course, the Eucharist itself. A Eucharistic fast allows us to feel hunger for God, and to be thankful when we receive Him into our bodies.
The greater reason is that the fast cultivates prayer. Without prayer, the grace received in the Sacrament has no room to take effect. Why? Because grace is supernatural power and to pray is to distance oneself from natural power. When a Christian prays, he says I am not relying upon myself, but upon God and His grace. As C.S. Lewis once said I dont pray to change God. I pray to let God change me. There is unbelievable grace in receiving the Sacrament prayerfully, and fasting is the best way to cultivate this prayerfulness. It is often very easy to become contented and even presumptuous in our lives, especially if never miss a meal. Have you ever gotten grumpy when youre hungry? Well, you have seen firsthand the fruit of fasting – it tells you that youre not alright, youre not ok. You need grace. And – more than all – you need the love of God.
If you have never done so before, consider taking up the Eucharistic Fast. Skip that muffin or bowl of cereal on the way out the door. Pray for God to help you, and prayerfully receive His grace.
Two weeks ago, I had the wonderfully exciting opportunity to attend a meeting of the Prayerbook and Common Liturgy Committee of the ACNA in Long Beach, CA. It was attended by two liturgy professors, four parish priests, three bishops, and the preeminent theologian of the last many decades, Dr. J.I. Packer. I was there serving as liason for the Catechesis Task Force. Why all the fuss over the prayerbook? Well, to many of you, the prayerbook is a dear part of your lives. You have grown up on its words, and even simple changes can be disturbing. The reason, I suspect is that we intuitively know as Anglicans that the words of the prayerbook express clearly the faith we hold. So, it’s important that the words convey clearly that Faith.
One of my favorite parts of our liturgy is the epiclesis. The term means “invocation” and it refers to the point at which the celebrant of the mass invokes the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine at the altar. In the realm of Anglicanism, this is a point at which the American churches differ from the English prayerbooks. The story goes that when Scottish Anglicans asked the Archbishop of Canterbury for a prayerbook in the early 1600s, Archbishop William Laud sent them a prayerbook of his own design. This was the Scottish Book of 1637. It contained a number of distinctions from the English prayerbooks. One of them was the inclusion in the eucharistic canon of the epiclesis, just as the Eastern Orthodox Churches had always had. And, when Samuel Seabury was sent to be consecrated by a group of Scottish Bishops to be the first American Episcopal Bishop, one of the “terms” was that American prayerbooks had to include the epiclesis. So it has been ever since.
The exact language is as follows:
“And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.”
Our inclusion of the epiclesis is a bit odd, considering that it is not the tradition of western churches to include it. The Roman Missal, for instance, has never included it. In the western tradition, it is the Words of Institution, recalling Christ’s words which are the essential form, effecting the change of the bread and wine. In the Eastern Church, it is the epiclesis which effects the change. This is one of those points on which Anglicans provide a via media, or middle way between the Latin west and the Orthodox east. We have it both ways. Perhaps it’s not entirely consistent, but it’s reflective of the two truths – that both the Word and the Holy Spirit are what give us the Sacrament.
I’m pleased that the Prayerbook Committee has seen fit to keep the epiclesis in future iterations of the eucharistic canons and look forward to someday using them!
“At the length, when it pleased God to raise up kings and emperors favouring sincerely the Christian truth, that which the Church before either could not or durst not do, was with all alacrity performed. Temples were in all places erected. No cost was spared, nothing judged too dear which that way should be spent. The whole world did seem to exult, that it had occasion of pouring out gifts to so blessed a purpose.”
Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
This morning on my way out of the sacristy following morning mass, I just had to stop and admire our beautiful north-end window, which is an image of Christ the Good Shepherd surrounded by a motif of scriptural images of shepherds. There is the command of Jesus to Saint Peter: “Feed my sheep,” there is the David depicted as a shepherd, and many others. The window is terribly beautiful, and I was drawn to simply stand there and be awed by it.
“They don’t make ‘em like the used to” is often the phrase that comes to mind. Modern churches are often terribly plain, and at worst they are terribly ugly, prompting one modern writer on church architecture to title his book “Ugly as Sin.” Our church, on the other hand, was built with beauty in mind. The architects envisioned a 12th Century Norman parish church when they designed it, accommodating for beautiful stained glass windows and woodworking. Beauty, it seems, speaks to the heart in a way that words cannot. Beautiful music and beautiful pieces of art ought to leave us feeling inspired, and not only that, filled with virtue. The appreciation of beauty sets us apart as human beings from the rest of creation, which is itself purposed by God with the task of inspiring awe of Him in our souls.
Yet, there are those who cannot understand the need for a beautiful church building. They are divided into two camps. There are the first who say “A plain building suits the worship of God better. After all, we are a people of the word. Images and artwork simply do not compare to the written word of God. Everything should draw attention to that.” The second are a bit more altruistic and therefore, more difficult to convince. They say “Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that money on the poor? Who needs all this opulence?”
To the first, I would reply that they’re speaking like people of reason divorced from imagination. They have been convinced by the Enlightenment that words are of infinitely higher value than images or beauty. Reason is the ultimate good. Mystery is the enemy. G.K. Chesterton once mused that it was people who exist in the realm of reason alone who are dangerously close to going insane. He wrote: “Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery, you have health; when you destroy mystery, you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.”
The same can be said for our churches. The old Baptist idea was that the real Church is in Heaven, and that everything we do here is a sad parody of that ultimate reality. We hold something completely different – that the redeemed man has one foot on earth and one in heaven. This is what the Church calls eschatology, or the study of the end. The best way of describing that reality is that we live in the reality of “already but not yet.” This is why the medieval Church designed church buildings to be mirrors of heaven. Which is not to neglect the Word of God, not at all. But, the Word of God is first and foremost Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. He is the God who has crossed the threshold from Heaven into Earth and in His person has bridged the gap. As the Sanctus states: “Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.” It is in the glory of beauty that the Word of God written may be not only heard, but truly lived.
Now to the scoffers who say: “Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that money on the poor?” I must admit their point to some extent. If it were true that we did nothing for the poor, I might agree. But, what they’re saying comes exactly to what Judas Iscariot said when Mary of Bethany lavished costly ointment upon Jesus. “”Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Saint John’s comment on the scene is this: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.” Not to accuse the naysayers of theft, but how much money do they give to the poor? Further – is the worship of God unimportant – ancillary to the “real” task of solving society’s manifold problems? No – the worship of God is the first task of the Church, it is her vocation. Any work we do with the poor is out of love for them, not some high ideal of “solving” the problem of poverty. To prove the point further, the Church has been the greatest agent of human charity on the planet for 20 centuries. We have adopted the abandoned, we have clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and comforted the sick. Case in point is Mother Teresa. No one did more for the poor in the last century than her. Yet, her priorities were in order. She prayed every day for long hours before going into the slums of Calcutta. The worship of God is first – and this is the reason for a beautiful Church – it honors Him.
Very often, the question comes up from parishioners: “Why do we baptize infants?” It’s a great question, and one that comes up precisely because there are a great number of people who do not baptize infants. Their assertion is that baptism is for people who have already become Christians by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. But, the same people will also make some very un-scriptural statements about baptism. Among them:
- Baptism is merely an outward profession of Faith, a symbol only.
- Baptism does not impart the Holy Spirit.
- Baptism does not make one a member of the Church.
- Baptism does not remit sins.
- Baptism does not save.
- Baptism does not wash a person of sin.
To these I would respond individually with the following Scriptural texts, which are absolutely crucial to understanding the Biblical teaching on this subject.
- “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)
- For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
- And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
- We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we to might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
- Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience. (1 Peter 3:21)
- Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Let’s focus on that last verse for a bit. What the Church does not say in baptizing infants is that it wants to guarantee their salvation. Not at all. In fact, we still hold that belief in the truth of the Faith is essential to salvation. What we are rather saying is that infants have faith to the extent that they are able. As they mature, they have faith to the extent that they are able. Put another way, think of a 4 year old boy dressed up in a cowboy costume. Is he a cowboy? Some would say no. But, think about it. Is he really able to be a cowboy? Well, to an extent, yes. He can wear the uniform. He can say cowboy-like things. He can ride a horse with help. He can be a cowboy to the best of his abilities.
Most churches that preclude infant baptism will say that children must be at the “age of reason” in order to receive baptism. But, what they ignore is that many very small children display a great deal of Christian faith at very young ages. My two oldest children participate in Church, they love Jesus a great deal. I remember my daughter (when she was 3) looking at a crucifix, and saying indignantly “Those were bad guys that did that.”
What we say instead is that Baptism clothes the human person in the realities of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Romans 6) No matter the cerebral ability of a human being, the same thing happens. We claim all that the Scriptures claim and very much desire these wonderful gifts (cleansing from sin, the Holy Spirit, membership in Christ’s body the Church, and regeneration in Christ) for our children. We take the responsibility for their raising in the faith very seriously.
The other response is that the Old Testament precedent of circumcision applies. The Jews did not ask their eight day old baby boys if they wanted the procedure done. No, they did it. They applied the covenant to their sons and as they matured, gave them opportunity to make the covenant their own. It was like making them eat their peas or do their homework. They didn’t have a choice. In the same way, we work to mold the Christian character of our children, so that they will not depart from it. As the Proverbs tell us: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
The last thing that needs to be said is that adult baptism continues to be the theological norm for the Church. When we speak of baptism, we are speaking of the baptism of adults who have been converted from sin and death to new life in Christ. Infant Baptism is, in fact, a dispensation from the rule given to parents who are serious about raising their children in the Faith. This is the reason that the bar is so high at Saint John’s for parents seeking to have their children baptized. It is a very serious thing that they seek, and their responsibility is likewise serious.